Small Change by Keddie Hughes – Blog Tour Review.

 

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About the Book

An unsolved murder, a marriage at breaking point and a football club in crisis collide into one woman’s life in this dramatic new novel, set against political upheaval in Glasgow in 2011. Forty-two-year-old Izzy Campbell wants more from life than a husband who is a fanatical Glasgow Rangers football supporter and a borderline alcoholic. She has always put her family’s needs first, but with her son turning eighteen she decides it’s time things change. Izzy volunteers at the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and enrols for a part-time degree in Social Sciences, and when she encounters a charismatic journalist, Sean Docherty who is investigating alleged financial mismanagement at Rangers, she finds herself offering to help. Before she knows it, she is drawn into the excitement of political activism and the arms of an attractive man. Her loyalties are further tested when she discovers her husband’s part in the murder of a young fan from Rangers’ arch enemy – Celtic. The choices Izzy makes will determine the future of her life. An engaging and heartfelt story of one woman’s personal transformation.

My Review

With thanks to the publisher for the copy received. I’m not a football fan but like many others I was aware of the scandal that involved Glasgow Rangers football club a few years ago. Small Change is a novel that shows the impact of its collapse on just one of the families affected by it.
Jim is a business man and a lifelong Rangers fan who is convinced that he has struck the deal of a lifetime when he is awarded the contract from the club to supply new security systems. He is married to Izzy who volunteers at a local help centre for those who are crippled by debt.They have a son who dreams of success in his band and is studying for his highers. But Jim is also a heavy drinker and it is affecting his judgment. He ignores all advice offered by Izzy and all the news that is in the media. He isn’t the main character, he might only have a few sentences in each chapter but what he has to say has a big impact in the novel.
It is Izzy who much of the focus is on in the novel. She hates football and has her eyes wide open to what the rumours are regarding the club. She is devoted to her husband but is getting increasingly concerned about his drinking and isn’t aware of what he has seen on the night of the murder of the Celtic fan. She just knows that their marriage and their business is at risk.
It’s a fascinating and easy book to read. As well as the drama surrounding the club there is also the referendum, drinking culture and the level of animosity between the football clubs. It shows that it is like a religion to many and intolerance and violence is common.I don’t remember reading anything that has highlighted it quite so much before. But alongside all of this is friendship, romance and forgiveness. It was lovely to read these parts of the novel and to see the effect that being able to accept a situation made a big difference to people’s lives.
I don’t always read postscripts but I did in this novel. Some of the statistics that are mentioned are staggering. Recommended.

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Indigo Lost by S. R Summers – Guest Post – Blog Tour.

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On my blog  today is a guest post from S.R Summers where she talks about her views on social media and how damaging it can be. But first I will tell you what her book is about.

About the book

Don’t think. Just run. When what lies ahead is less fearful than what lies behind, and west-coast unknowns less terrifying than east-side tragedies, there is no choice other than the one through the window at the end of a third-floor police station corridor. Without another thought, the girl runs. Her jump will take her to the street below, to encounters with humanity that will both shock and save her, to the girl she becomes the one who knows how to fight, but also survive, even shine, in the darkest places. She does not go unnoticed. The mob boss, the ruler of Vegas, has seen her. But she is not ready to be seen. And this time there is no corridor, and no window.

Guest Post 

As someone who grew up with the launch of social media, and witnessed the welcome it received as the new golden era of human communication, I find it sad now to be writing a piece on how damaging it can be.
The contrast could not be stronger between a decade ago, when we were told it would bring us all closer together, and now, when in the unsettled social-political climate we see Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, testifying about data breaches to the US Senate, with millions of users’ personal data having been misused – ironically including that of the founder himself. Add to this the fact that even an ex-executive of Facebook, Chamath Palihapitiya, admitted feeling intense guilt from having helped create ‘tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works’, it is fair to say we are living through a challenging dimension on our ball of rock in the big sea of space. And it is something we all need to face up to, because we know, despite the negative press, that we have all the apps on our phones, tablets and laptops, and we keep using them like addicts that just can’t give up the habit.
One of social media’s most lauded assets – and now it’s greatest danger – is that it can reach almost everyone – and age limits are irrelevant when no proof is needed to create accounts. There is no age test, no ‘how-to’ guide: we are all guinea-pigs in a huge social experiment. But like all human constructs, however well intentioned, they are open to corruption and abuse when people devise ways to manipulate them to their advantage – which is how we started with algorithms that show us ‘friends’ we might have in common, and ended up with headlines telling us Russia might have influenced the US 2017 Presidential Election, and possibly the Brexit result. People express concern about the volume of misinformation online now, that no one knows what the truth is anymore. Even established news outlets like the BBC are no longer seen as the bastions of truth that they once were, so intertwined has the media become with social media, constantly vying for our attention. Can anyone quantify the impact this increasing lack of trust will have on society? How can we achieve integrity in our mass-communications?
From political super-powers, all the way down to individuals, I know from first-hand experience how complicated social media can make life – I have a large number of people on my ‘blocked’ list because of abusive behaviour. ‘Trolling’ no longer raises eyebrows when it’s mentioned on the news, and though widely condemned, the volume of inflammatory comments per hour, let alone in a day, makes social media a very hard entity to police. I employ a number of teenagers, and have witnessed their distress because of vicious comments, unwanted friend requests, badly chosen photos, being unfriended . . . the list goes on and on. And on another list, we could write words like, ‘depression’ and ‘low self-esteem’. I gave a talk at a careers event at a school a few months ago and touched on how, when we put something out there for the world, we have to be prepared for people’s opinions, and how imperative it is to learn to ignore the negative and only give credence to constructive criticism. Many parents approached me to thank me for attempting to create some sort of perspective on the social media issue. (It is worth noting that in the last three years there has been an 87% increase in the number of Childline’s counselling sessions for online bullying. And according to some sources, Facebook is a key reason for about one third of divorces! So, it’s not just young people who are being affected.)
So, is there any good news? Something we could give a big thumbs-up to, despite this murky, insidiously easy-to-use algorithm-based online world we use every day? Despite the flaws, some say social media has helped raise awareness for charities, and raise money that has changed lives for the better. But is that enough of a reason to keep feeding the social media machine?
One rather inconceivable concept, and something I’m tremendously interested in, is whether we’ll one day learn a huge lesson from social media, and choose to go back to living without it; that we’ll decide that the price we pay for devoting so much time to our online life is just not worth it. Surely, sincere, real-world social interaction is always going to be better? That dinner with friends without constantly checking (and updating!) our Instagram accounts will be a far closer and connective experience? We have already seen numerous people shut down their Facebook accounts: Elon Tusk took SpaceX and Tesla off their platform; pub chain JD Wetherspoons deleted all social media accounts because of the level of trolling taking place. What if we, as individuals, also chose to remove ourselves from social media, not for business reasons, but for the sake of morality and respect? For truly, it is morality and respect (and self-respect) that dictate how ‘civilised’ a species we are, not how many followers or ‘likes’ we have.
I once said to someone, ‘Sometimes you have to do something once, to know you don’t want to do it again.’ Could this be true with respect to social media? Do we need to keep ‘doing it’ again and again until morality and respect are annihilated entirely?  I hope the damage done by social media will one day be mitigated by a resurgence of integrity and unity. I plan to be a part of that. Do you?

About the Author

Twitter: @indigolost
Living in Leamington Spa, West Midlands, S.R. Summers owns and runs the popular ZouBisou cafe. Previously, she has enjoyed a career working within broadcast media whilst living in Belgium and within the field of e-commerce. She also holds a degree in History from the University of Cambridge. When not managing her cafe, you’ll find her busy writing and working on the final book in her Infinity Squared eight-part series. The first in the series, Indigo Lost by S.R, Summers (published by ShieldCrest Publishing April 2018 RRP £20 hardback, £12 paperback and £5.99 e-book) is available to purchase from online retailers, including Amazon, and to order from all good bookstores. For more information you can follow the author @indigolost.
Amazon Buy Links: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Indigo-Lost-1-Infinity-Squared/dp/1911090917/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1524828634&sr=8-1&keywords=Indigo+Lost

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Fifteen Words by Monika Jephcott Thomas – Extract – #SpringReads

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About the Book

Two young doctors form a profound and loving bond in Nazi Germany; a bond that will stretch them to the very limits of human endurance. Catholic Max – whose religious and moral beliefs are in conflict, has been conscripted to join the war effort as a medic, despite his hatred of Hitler’s regime. His beloved Erika, a privileged young woman, is herself a product of the Hitler Youth. In spite of their stark differences, Max and Erika defy convention and marry.

But when Max is stationed at the fortress city of Breslau, their worst nightmares are realised; his hospital is bombed, he is captured by the Soviet Army and taken to a POW camp in Siberia. Max experiences untold horrors, his one comfort the letters he is allowed to send home: messages that can only contain Fifteen Words. Back in Germany, Erika is struggling to survive and protect their young daughter, finding comfort in the arms of a local carpenter. Worlds apart and with only sparse words for comfort, will they ever find their way back to one another, and will Germany ever find peace?
Fifteen Words is a vivid and intimate portrayal of human love and perseverance, one which illuminates the German experience of the war, which has often been overshadowed by history.

Purchase on Amazon UKhttps://www.amazon.co.uk/Fifteen-Words-Monika-Jephcott-Thomas-ebook/dp/B01MCWG3IJ/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1477564925&sr=1-1&keywords=fifteen+words

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About Monika Jephcott Thomas

Monika Jephcott Thomas grew up in Dortmund Mengede, north-west Germany. She moved to the UK in 1966, enjoying a thirty year career in education before retraining as a therapist. Along with her partner Jeff she established the Academy of Play & Child Psychotherapy in order to support the twenty per cent of children who have emotional, behavioural, social and mental health problems by using play and the creative Arts. A founder member of Play Therapy UK, Jephcott Thomas was elected President of Play Therapy International in 2002.

Extract

Max looked at the revolver in his hand. It was the first time he had taken it from its holster since that terrifying train journey through Romania close to the Southern Front. Yet this time he felt he was actually going to have to pull the trigger. The question was, would he be aiming at the Russians surrounding the city or at himself.
The gun was a Walther P38, not dissimilar to his father’s Luger P08, but a cheaper version massed produced for the German army now that the financial cost of war was spiralling out of control. Max turned the gun over in his hands, juggling it with thoughts of his father putting that Luger to his own forearm when Max was just a boy and pulling the trigger. Papa had shattered just about every bone in his wrist, but it was the only way he could make sure he did not have to serve in the German army in the Great War.
‘There was nothing great about it,’ Papa had grumbled the day Max had announced his intention to join up. But his father had reluctantly chewed up his bitterness for the Nazis and his fears for his son and swallowed them with a mouthful of recently rationed hard bread and tinned pork. He had to admire his son for forging a career for himself as a doctor. ‘What would this country do without people like him?’ he whispered to his wife as they both stared at the ceiling that night in bed, wide-eyed in the gloom with parental concern. ‘Our people will be broken soon, just like they were before, and it will be his job to try and put them back together again, God help him!’
Max had wanted to be a doctor since he was sixteen. He had known he had to be a doctor since he was sixteen. Since the time Aunty Bertel had taken him to the theatre. Then, he was so engrossed in the play before him (on the edge of his seat as Polly Peachum cried for her lover and Macheath was about to be hung on the gallows; the ominous music from the orchestra seemingly emanating from his own swelling chest) that Max thought the mighty crash, which rocked the floor beneath him, was the result of a wonderful choreography between pyrotechnical effects, timpani and cymbals. But as the screams from the street dominoed through the audience and even reached the actors, Max realised this was not part of the show. Some of the audience were frozen to their seats, fearful of what the screams outside portended. Others, who Max could only assume were not as enamoured with The Threepenny Opera as he was, hurried their friends and partners into the street with a strange excitement on their faces for the greater spectacle which awaited them outside the theatre.
‘There’s been an accident. A terrible accident. A tram. A lorry…’ one disembodied screech reached Max and his aunt from over the heads of the stampeding theatre-goers.
‘Tante,’ Max could not control the quivering in his voice. ‘What should we do?’
‘Let’s go!’ Bertel declared in a tone of such confidence she might well have been trying to compensate for her nephew’s obvious lack of it. ‘We need to help!’
Max followed Bertel into a street strewn with beer and bodies. For a second, he told himself that there had been a riotous party and everyone had collapsed on the ground from too much drinking. But the blood and dismemberment told another story; one which he could not deny when he saw the double decker tram torn apart as if it was made of paper and the lorry from the Kronen brewery on its side, its contents soaking the road with a boozy stench.
Bertel grabbed Max by the sleeve and, with an intrepidity which he could only marvel at, she marched through the chaos towards the cigar shop opposite the theatre, where a ladder leant against the awning.
‘Help me carry this!’ she ordered Max. ‘We are going to use it as a stretcher. We’re going to lay each casualty on it in turn and carry them to the hospital, understand?’
Max nodded his head furiously. From the moment Bertel had opened her mouth he was hanging on her every word, determined not to let her down, determined to infect himself with her courage.
The hospital was only two hundred metres away. Yet after hauling four casualties there and watching Bertel’s stern but comforting way of telling each that they would be OK, despite their screams and horrific injuries, Max felt weaker and more useless than ever.
‘I should have been able to do more,’ he told himself when he finally got home and hid in the lavatory, trying to get the sound of that screaming to quieten down; desperate for a sense of solitude after all the crowds, the bumping of elbows, the tripping over bodies. ‘I will never be so useless again.’
So Dr Max Portner weighed the pistol in his palms, red and cracked from the late winter frosts. He noted the secret code 480 on the slide, which had replaced the old Walther Arms banner decorating previous models for fear the Allies could identify weapon production sites from such markings and bomb them. But that was the least of his fears and those of his fellow Germans right now in Breslau, the city surrounded as it was by the Sixth Army of the First Ukrainian Front. The city had been under siege now for over seventy days. Max had tended to so many wounded and dying soldiers in that time he knew there couldn’t be many left to protect the great military fortress Hitler had decreed the city to become against the advancing Russians.
A plane roared overhead. Max shoved his pistol back into its holster and threw himself instinctively into one of the bomb craters in the garden which they had begun using as latrines. The last thing on his mind was the gallons of other people’s shit he was now crouched trembling in. When the bombs didn’t come he dared to look up and, since the plane was so low, he managed to identify one of his own, a Luftwaffe aircraft dropping another load of supplies. These air drops used to bring him a sense of hope, but the city was on its knees now and he doubted they would survive until tomorrow. Doubted they should survive if all he’d heard about the POW camps was true.
‘Erika,’ he whispered to himself, craning his neck up to track the plane, ‘If only…’
His unarticulated wish stuck in his extended throat as his eyes took in the sight of the plane exploding – a direct hit from one of the Russian anti-aircraft guns positioned around the city. His heart sank to its lowest point yet, but his eyes found strange solace in the bizarre beauty of the billowing clouds of smoke and flame, sending now useless pieces of medical equipment and food hurtling to the earth. Some of it even reached the garden where he was rooted in the ground agog.
And then it began to snow.
As if nature was attempting to cool down the infernal destruction and pacify the angry explosion marring its skies. The flakes were big, some too big to be snow Max gradually realised as he blinked at the smaller ones adorning his lashes. He held out his hand to catch one of the false flakes. It was part of a letter. Pages and pages, some quite intact began to flutter down into the garden. He clambered out of the cess pit and began, as instinctively as he had protected himself from the bombs by diving into a stinking toilet, to gather up the mail which the plane had also been trying to deliver along with supplies. Letters from loved ones to their men on the front. His fists were soon full of the treasure, the only thing salvageable from this final nail in the coffin of Breslau. Somewhere in the frosted corners of his mind he wished there was a letter from Erika among them and yet, like a player in one of Hitler’s fundraising lotteries, he never believed for a minute that he held the winning ticket.

Veronica’s Bird by Veronica Bird and Richard Newman – Blog Tour Review.

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About the Book

Veronica Bird was one of nine children living in a tiny house in Barnsley with a brutal coal miner for a father. Life was a despairing time in the 1950s, as Veronica sought desperately to keep away from his cruelty.
Astonishingly, to her and her mother, she won a scholarship to Ackworth Boarding School where she began to shine above her class-mates. A champion in all sports, Veronica at last found some happiness until her brother-in-law came into her life. It was as if she had stepped from the frying pan into the fire: he took over control of her life removing her from the school she adored, two terms before she was due to take her GCEs, so he could put her to work as a cheap option on his market stall.
Abused for many years by these two men, Veronica eventually ran away and applied to the Prison Service, knowing it was the only safe place she could trust.
This is the astonishing, and true story of Veronica Bird who rose to become a Governor of Armley prison. Given a ‘basket case’ in another prison, contrary to all expectations, she turned it around within a year, to become an example for others to match.
During her life inside, her ‘bird’, she met many Home Secretaries, was honoured by the Queen and was asked to help improve conditions in Russian Prisons. A deeply poignant story of eventual triumph against a staggeringly high series of setbacks, her story is filled with humour and compassion for those inside.

My Review

With thanks to the publisher for the copy received.
I rarely read non-fiction, in honesty I can’t remember the last I read but I liked the sound of Veronica’s Bird. It didn’t disappoint.
From an early age Veronica was aware that if she wanted a better life then it was up to her to do it. Despite having an abusive and aggressive father and a controlling, ignorant brother-in-law she managed it. Proving that she had guts, that she wasn’t afraid of hard work and showing that everybody had respect for her.
I felt that she was a loner. Her own family were distant from her, but she was close to people she worked with. Some of the prisons she worked at I hadn’t heard of, and I found myself looking at them on google. I hadn’t realised there were so many, or how many people could be in them at any time.I hadn’t thought how close-knit the community could be. Either between those who worked in the prisons or about how ‘friendship’ or at the very least, respect given towards the men and women who were incarcerated.
Veronica talks about how working in the prisons changed during her thirty-five career, not always for the better. She talks about how supportive some members of the Royal Family were and about the attitudes from Members of Parliament and the media. Some of the prisoners who were in her care were common names, Myra Hindley was one. Others, again, I was looking at on google and I wondered how she felt towards them now.
This novel has demonstrated to me that a career within the prison service isn’t for me, nor going to certain parts of Russia.

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The Secret of the Cathars by Michael Hillier

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Philips Sinclair’s grandmother has recently died. She leaves him the unusual legacy of the translated journal of his ancient ancestor, who was one of the four Cathar perfecti who escaped from the castle of Montségur with the ‘treasure of the Cathars’ strapped to his back – a treasure which has never been found. She also leaves him a sum of money with the request that he travels to the Pyrenean fastness of le Bézu where she believes the treasure still lies.

Meanwhile the famous young French archaeologist Jaqueline Blontard has arrived at le Bézu to start excavations as part of her new television series about the Albigensian Crusade. She believes her team will have the summer to uncover the secrets of the place before they are disturbed by the press and the authorities.

However the Roman Catholic Church already knows about their plans and has arranged for their agent to join the archaeologists. Also a secret but very influential body in Paris is sending their man to watch the excavations. Furthermore a criminal gang in Marseilles has become involved in the search for the treasure.

The archaeologists are suspicious of Philip but allow him to join them. As they start to uncover the secrets of le Bézu they find themselves in a race to make the information public before they are overwhelmed in a maelstrom of violence caused by the forces trying to stop them so that they can claim the treasures for their own illegal ends. (less)

My thoughts:
I’m interested in the history of the Cathars so was looking forward to reading this novel. It took a while for it to get going, there were a lot of characters that all appeared over a few chapters. I had to keep reading back to get an understanding of who each one was and what they wanted. I persevered though and quite enjoyed it. The actual story isn’t that strong but it was engaging.The part of the novel that featured Philip and his inheritance was the best and most interesting.It’s one that I would probably enjoy more on a second read.

With thanks to Authoright for the copy received.